Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Getting off a looooong plateau

When I was ten, I started guitar lessons. That was thirty-six years ago. Ever since, I've stayed with it. So in all those years I've learned alot. Rock and roll, blues, jazz, classical, bluegrass, even ragtime. The years of playing have been great relaxation and a meditative escape. But last nite, something new happened and it's opened up a whole new world of sound and expression.

20 years ago, I studied ragtime guitar. My teacher could make a guitar sound like a piano. There was a technique he used that made the difference: he let his fingernails grow so he could "pick" five strings at the same time with his nails. A pick sound is completely different than a "thumb" sound. It's much clearer.

When your skin hits a guitar string, the tone is muted. For comparison, think of playing a piano with the mute pedal depressed. The sound is softer. It's the same with a guitar. When you pick with the fleshy ends of your fingers or thumb, you produce a muted tone.

On our recent vacation, I let the fingernails on my right hand grow. Now they're just past the fleshy tips of the fingers, the ends manicured into the shape of a guitar pick.

Last nite I tried out an acoustic with my new set of nails and there it was: the piano sound. Playing with a pick gives you speed and control. Playing with five bionic picks on the ends of your fingers turns you into a picking machine. Up and down picking. Times five. It's incredible.

Scott Joplin, hello again.

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